Tuesday, November 22, 2011

2011, 2nd - 10th November: El Chalten, Argentina - The Final Chalten Climbs

2011, 2nd - 10th November
El Chalten, Argentina
The Final Climbs: Laguna de los Tres, Cerro Vespignani & Paso del Cuadrado

2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 8th, 10th resting from ice trekking and from more climbs in the El Chalten area.

4th November - Climb to Laguna de los Tres

For a full set of photos, follow this link to the set in my Flickr account:


This was mountain walking of the more relaxing type. The walk to Laguna de los Tres near to El Chalten is popular as it is fairly ´doable´. At the top there are great views across Laguna de los Tres (which was frozen and snow-covered) to mountain  Fitz Roy. Nearby, there are commanding views down to Laguna Sucia which has a deep blue colour and has Glaciar Rio Blanco above it.

Looking Down to Laguna Sucia & Glaciar Rio Blanco

7th November - Ascent of Cerro Vespignani

For a full set of photos, follow this link to the set in my Flickr account:


I made this ascent with a guide (Ariel) and a traveller from Madrid (Javier). A early start at 4am from town to drive 90 minutes north of town along a gravel road, allowing us to be walking by 5:45am. An early start provided better snow conditions as it was still cold and the snow was firmer to walk on.

Cerro Vespignani at 2146 m (7039 ft) is an impressive mountain as it is covered with snow and ice all year round. As a result, some of it´s upper sections have beautiful blue-white ice forms (as well as some small crevasses to watch out for). On it´s southerly face (which we climbed), this snow and ice feeds down to a small glacier (Glaciar Huemul) and a wonderfully light blue lagoon (Laguna del Huemul) - both of which take their names from the huemul which is a type of deer that lives in this part of South America.

The climb was demanding as the snow often yielded to our weight (it is more tiring when you frequently sink to your knees or deeper with each step). Crampons were worn throughout the climb (apart from some less steep sections which allowed snow shoes). We also stayed roped together in case of falls or encountering one of the small crevasses. One section was probably the steepest snow climb I have made to-date as the gradient was (I estimate) 70 degrees.

Ice Forms Near the Summit

The Climb was Particularly Steep for a Section Near the Summit

The weather was perfect all day (bright skies with no wind) and the views from the summit was absolutely spectacular. To the south we could clearly see Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and all accompanying peaks. To the south west, Gorra Blanca was clearly visible, and across the peaks to the west one could see a section of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. During my ice trek the previous week, an ascent of Gorra Blanca (to the edge of the ice field) was not possible due to high winds, but this ascent of Cerro Vespignani certainly made up for it.

Tim, Ariel & Javier on the Summit with Fitz Roy in the Distance Behind Us

The descent was certainly a lot easier as we could plough through the powdery snow in giant steps - sweet compensation for the demanding climb.

9th November - Ascent of Paso del Cuadrado

For a full set of photos, follow this link to the set in my Flickr account:


This was a pysically demanding day as there was a 1300 m (4260 ft) straight height gain preceded and proceded by a 1 1/2 hour walk to get to/from the climb point. The ascent starts from the beautiful valley of Rio Electrico (this is the same valley from where my ascent to the ice field started two weeks before).

I made this climb alone, which required some friendly tips (and photo viewing) the previous day. This is beacuse cartography is pretty basic in this part of the world - oh, how nice it would be to work with some quality Ordnance Survey maps! A good example being on this trek where a huge square (cuadrado) rock feature on a ridge which you will see in the photos (how the place "Paso del Cuadrado" ("Pass of the Square") gets its name) is not marked on the map! Having been shown some photos of the place the previous evening, together with some tips on where to cross the moraine and the higher snow section, I at least knew what to look out for and aim for.

After a lot of climbing, I reached the snow line and planned my route across and up the snow to the summit of the pass. I had clearly picked up some good knowledge during my guided treks of how to use plastic boots, crampons and ice axe as I made the ascent without any particular difficulty, though there was a tough scramble up a final rock section to get onto the ridge and see the views of the many glaciers on the other side.

Tim on the ´Summit´ of Paso del Cuadrado

The View from the ´Summit´ of the Pass Towards Glaciar Pollone

Once on the ridge of the Paso del Cuadrado, as well as a long view down to the valley of Rio Electrico from where I had just climbed, I had great views on the south west side across and down to Glaciar Pollone and Glaciar Fitz Roy (Norte), as well as the peaks of Cerro Torre and Guillaumet. Such views were one of the many reasons that I have been so captured by the mountains in the El Chalten area, the way in which rock and ice are interwoven with blue-whites spread across the brown granite all underneath a rich blue sky; and the way in which the jagged ice seems to literally spill down from the summits - cheating gravity, defies all expectations of what can exist in the natural world.

View of Paso del Cuadrado (Pass of the Square) During the Descent
(The Name Comes from the Large Square Rock Feature Visible on the Ridge)

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